Monday, 20 January 2014

Fares to Scilly Continue to Rise

Work by FRIST's 'Visitor Voice' has discovered that 2014 fares to and from Scilly, both on the Scillonian and Skybus, have increased by as much as 27.5% in some cases since 2012.  The fare increases start from an already high base.   2014 sees Scillonian fares rise from £42 to £49 (average +12.6%) each way for an open single ticket on its once a day service from March to October.  Skybus fares have risen from £70 to £ 80 (14%) each way for an open ticket from Land's End to Scilly and from £100 to £127.50 for flights to/from Exeter.(See details in notes below). 

Various factors will have contributed to these increases.  Landing fees are a significant component of air ticket prices on short journeys and they have increased substantially at St Mary’s Airport, a measure forced upon the IOS Council by the need to balance the Airport's books in the face of declining visitor numbers. The Steamship Company has also been investing heavily to expand the capacity of the air routes (following the loss of BIH) with a new terminal completed at Lands End Airport and the hard runway surface due to be completed in March.  There was also a major refurbishment of Scillonian in 2012/13.  
The Steamship Company is the sole provider of passenger transport between the islands and mainland.   Whilst customer service issues arise and some believe the service could be more efficient, few are accusing the Company making vast profits from the routes.  FRIST believes there would be benefit from an open discussion about ticket pricing because it would discourage unjustified attacks on the Company and encourage more attention on underlying issues.

The air and sea services have high fixed costs.    Alarming reductions in visitor numbers in the last two years means these costs have to be spread over a smaller number of passengers.  The downward trend must also be a threat to the islanders’ concessionary fares (at current rates) as these must effectively be subsidized by visitors (residents get little concessionary reduction on Skybus).

The IOS Council transport preference survey conducted in the summer 2013 found that a principal reason for visitors not visiting (or not visiting more often) was the high level of fares. Almost every comment to the FRIST Visitor Voice supports this finding. Similar concerns are expressed by those travelling for travel for business, family, medical or other reasons. 

The economy of Scilly, dependent as it is on tourism, is not sustainable in its present form unless there is a substantial reduction in fares.  This can only be achieved with Government revenue support – for which there is a long established precedent (since the 1960s) in the Scottish islands.  The Isle of Islay is comparable in population (3228 in 2011) and ferry journey time  (~2 hours).  An open one way ferry ticket is £6.30 and there are three to four return sailings every day all year round.  There is also an air service to Glasgow with return tickets in the range £84 - £130 for visitors or £64 - £92 for islanders and other entitled to the Scottish Government funded Air Discount Service (ADS).


The dividend paid to Steamship Company shareholders in 2011/12 equates to just under 1 penny (£0.01) per £1 of revenue.  Source IOSSCo annual accounts, Companies House.

Subsidies for routes between the Scottish Isles and mainland Scotland were formalized in the  Highlands and Islands Shipping Services Act 1960

Between 2012 and 2014 the fares between Scilly and the mainland have changed as follows: 


2012 Single £42 for all passengers.

2014 Single £42 for the first 50 passengers only, £47 for the next 200 and then £49 for the last 200. The average increase is 12.6% but 44% (assuming a full sailing) will pay 16% more than 2 years ago.


Fares vary according to popularity (demand) of flights and when you book. The figures below are the minimum one way fares excluding 'Travel Club' (residents) discounts for 2012 and for 2014 with the percentage increase shown:

Lands End      2012   £60           2014   £70                +16%

Newquay        2012   £75           2014   £90                +19%

Exeter            2012   £100         2014   £127.50         +27.5%

(Newquay figures exclude departure tax)

The BIH helicopter service ended in Nov 2012. Skybus is the only scheduled service to and from the islands from the end of October until the end of March when the Scillonian resumes sailings.

The highest one way fares to Scilly are Lands End £80, Newquay £100 and Exeter £137.50. These are the typical fares as the lower, 'headline' rates only apply to a small minority of flights.


  1. There are no flights available at the moment from Exeter at the lower price quoted in the article although this price is still shown as the headline price.

  2. We have checked ticket prices for April 2014 (in response to your comment) and found that of the 68 scheduled flights 4 are at the headline price of £127.50 (one way) and the other 64 were all at the higher price of £137.50. In May and June 2014 75% of flying days offer only the higher price ticket.

  3. I do not understand, apparently passengers find it hard to get tickets on Skybus to St. Marys. And yet prices are still high and there is no Sunday flying. If sunday flying would be introduced (at least summer season in order to attract weekend get-aways as well as to compensate for cancelled flights due to adverse weather on other days), coupled with the offer of increased flight numbers, the cost (to the operator) per flight would be reduced and therefore pass savings on to customer.
    Basically, business will only be allowed to increase if the offer of flights/routes to the Isles increases and only then can the price of tickets decrease. Am I wrong?

  4. Apologies for the delay in responding to your comment.

    There are problems getting tickets for flights to St Mary's. An analysis of the number of seats on scheduled flights verses visitor beds on the islands (4000+) suggests there are not enough seats to allow a weekly changeover of visitors. We have already been told of cases of visitors who made early accommodation bookings not being able to get flights or places on the ferry and having to charter a small boat.
    The IOS Council has agreed in principle to Sunday flying (it is a controversial topic but tourism businesses considered it vital) but the current shortage of ATC controllers might delay the start.

  5. Do the islanders (shareholder) prices demonstrate a significant reduction or is this a nominal benefit?